Guide your child to make healthy choices every day.

But what does that mean when everywhere we look, we, and our children, are faced with heaping restaurant meals, on-the-go snacks, and biggie-sized drinks?

It’s hard to recognize a healthy food, let alone one that promotes weight management for your family. The first step in choosing healthy foods is to learn about calories. You may have heard about calories before, but do you really know why they’re important?

Think of it this way, our bodies use the food we eat and what we drink to give us energy. We measure the amount of energy foods contain with the number of calories. When we eat more calories each day than we use for energy, we gain weight.

Different foods contain different amounts of calories. And different amounts of a food will contain a different number of calories.

But there are tools, like calorie counting books, that we can use to figure out how many calories are in the foods we eat. This goes for us, and our children.

One of the best tools to use is the nutrition facts label located on food packaging. Learn about the label, and teach everyone in your family how to use it, too.

All information on the nutrition facts label is based on the serving size. For example, one slice of bread, two taco shells, eight ounces of milk, one cup of cooked rice or one tablespoon of olive oil. Compare this serving size to how much you actually serve at mealtime.

To get an accurate picture of how much your child has eaten, check the number of calories in the serving size on the label. If your child eats more than the serving size, increase the number of calories. So if a serving size of cookies is two and he eats four, you have to double the amount of calories.

When you don’t have the food label handy, or are preparing foods without a label, knowing what a portion size or serving size looks like will help you figure out the number of calories. For example, a small baked potato is the size of a computer mouse, and has about 130 calories. A serving size of meat is about the size of a deck of cards, and may have 170 calories.

Most of the calories you serve each day should provide nutrition. That includes what your family drinks. Can you guess how many calories are in a can of regular soda? Take a look at the food label. Yup, there are 150 calories in every can of regular soda. How many does your family drink a day?

Sugary sodas, sports drinks and some juices are high in calories and don’t provide any nutrition. And they don’t satisfy your child or help him or her feel full. And diet drinks offer no nutritional benefits either. Instead, choose water or fat-free milk. This can really help cut back on the amount of calories taken in, increase nutrition and will help control weight and overall health.

And remember, certain types of foods have more calories than others. For example, foods with fats are high in calories. Popular snack foods like chips, crackers, and ice cream are high in fat and will have a high number of calories per serving.

Limit high fat foods like butter, mayonnaise, ice cream, cheese made from whole milk, chips, cookies, and cakes. Or, try low-fat or no-fat foods like frozen yogurt, baked pretzels, or popcorn. And don’t forget fruits and vegetables, most don’t have any fat!

Provide your child with at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. A typical serving size is 1 cup. For example, 1 serving of fruit is 1 cup of applesauce, 1 peach, or 1 large banana. Make sure your child’s servings of fruit and vegetables add up to at least 5 each day. Have them on hand for snacking instead of chips or other high-fat foods, and pretty soon, your child will reach his healthy weight goal.

Work with your child’s healthcare provider or a nutritionist to learn more about choosing healthy foods. They will have good suggestions that can help your family when grocery shopping, cooking and dining out.

Animation Copyright © Milner-Fenwick